Activists fighting to save DACA make stop in Philly en route to SCOTUS in D.C.

Protesters fighting to save  DACA are marching from New York to Washington D.C. ahead of a Supreme Court hearing. They stopped in Philadelphia on their way to D.C. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Protesters fighting to save DACA are marching from New York to Washington D.C. ahead of a Supreme Court hearing. They stopped in Philadelphia on their way to D.C. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Katherine Antarikso calls herself an “accidental immigrant.”

She came to Pennsylvania from Indonesia as a child with her family when her father started a doctoral program at Penn State University. Antarikso became undocumented in high school and lived in a constant state of fear, she said.

During a rally, Friday morning in front of City Hall, Antarikso, a Philly-based project architect, read a poem she wrote called “Can You See Me?”

“In my everyday life, what you do in your every day would have no consequence. But if I am noticed, I face a permanent absence,” the poem reads. “… I want to tell you that there is no life for me where I come from, but I am already a ghost here, so what is the difference?

Antarikso is no longer undocumented. She was able to adjust her status to a student visa during college.

Katherine Antarikso, a poet, part of the Home is Here March, shares the story of her brother’s deportation at a press conference in Philadelphia Friday. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

She was one of the dozens of people, which included undocumented immigrants, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and TPS (Temporary Protected Status) recipients, and community leaders who attended a rally organized by Home Is Here — a national coalition fighting to protect DACA recipients and immigrant communities.

The rally was a stop on Home Is Here’s 230-mile march from the Statue of Liberty to the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C. There were about 40 people in attendance.

They’ll arrive in D.C. on Nov. 12 — just in time for SCOTUS to start proceedings on the future of the DACA program, which is being challenged by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The country’s highest court will have until June 2020 to release its decision, which could change the course of 700,000 recipients’ lives. Without DACA, many will face uncertainty regarding employment and their ability to stay in the U.S.

“Our hearts are breaking for the families that are ripped apart by these senseless detentions and deportations, for children who come back to a home with no parents, for parents who have to watch their flesh and blood torn from their bosom,” Antarikso said. “We cannot let them tear us apart.”

Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym emceed the City Hall rally. She recapped the work done in Philly over the last several years to preserve its status as a sanctuary city. She also referenced the city’s efforts to fund DACA renewal applications and establish the first legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation.

Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym speaks a press conference with a group of protesters. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Gym also recognized that Philly has room to improve. Last year, protesters occupied City Hall’s apron to call for Philly to end a data-sharing contract with ICE, which it did in July 2018.

Gym said that ICE has deported more immigrants in Philadelphia for nonviolent and noncriminal offenses than in any other of the agency’s jurisdictions.

She said that beyond saving DACA and TPS — there’s more work to do.

“We know we’ve got a presidential election and I want us to be real clear about where immigrant communities need to stand when they come courting for our vote,” said Gym, who spent 20 years organizing in Philly’s Asian American and immigrant communities prior to her council post. “If they come and tell me that they are going to support DACA and TPS, and end child detention and cages at the border, I’m gonna say, ‘What’s next?’”

Gym says she wants to see the next administration make efforts to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and create a path to citizenship — within the first 100 days.

“We cannot be bought off by just [saving] DACA and TPS from a bunch of middling Democrats who don’t have bigger ideas,” said Gym.

C.J. Thompson, a DACA recipient originally from Jamaica, knows firsthand the experience of living in limbo. He comes from a mixed-status family, and his parents — undocumented and facing deportation — currently seek refuge in the First United Methodist Church of Germantown.

C.J. Thompson, whose parents live in sanctuary in a Philadelphia church, speaks at the Home is Here March press conference in Philadelphia Friday. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“My parents are wonderful, kind people who are anchors in their community,” said Thompson, who is studying computer science at Drexel University. “When this administration took power, we were quickly reminded that we are not citizens, just immigrants.”

“The worst bigots are the people in control,” Thompson added. “Racism is their driving force. It is the force that has babies in cages at the border. It is the force that has my parents living in a church.”

Before moving along on their journey toward D.C., marchers with Home Is Here are hosting a community dinner tonight in Philly with local young leaders.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Antarikso is no longer undocumented. 

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